What’s the best way to get motivated to exercise? Ask most fitness experts and they’ll tell you it’s finding someone to work out with: workout buddies hold you accountable, give you some healthy competition, and make fitness fun.
But some people obviously make better workout buddies than others. A new study in the journal Health Psychology suggests you’re most likely to make exercise a habit if it’s done with people your own age — regardless of their gender.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia recruited more than 600 older adults with an average age of 72 to participate in exercises classes at Vancouver YMCAs for 24 weeks.
Participants were randomly split into three groups: the first and second groups consisted of people around the same age, but one group was divided by gender and the other group was mixed-gender. Both groups were led by older fitness instructors specially trained for the study.
The third group was open to all ages and genders, and led by a typical YCMA instructor (one of the Village People, presumably).
At the end of the 24 weeks, it turned out the adults in the first two groups attended about 10 more classes on average than the people in the mixed-age group.
There was little difference in attendance between the same-gender group and the mixed-gender group — surprising the researchers, who had predicted women would be more motivated to work out with women, and men with men.
The researchers added a few more ingredients to tighten the groups’ social bonds: Participants were given opportunities to socialise over coffee, and received custom-made T-shirts identifying them as members of their particular group.
Which is kind of daggy, but the experiment proved so successful that participants convinced the YMCA to continue the age-specific classes at the end of the 24 weeks.
“All of this together points to the power of social connections,” said Mark Beauchamp, a University of British Columbia kinesiology professor and lead author of the study, in a statement.
“If you set the environment up so participants feel a sense of connection or belonging with these other people, then they’re more likely to stick with it.”
The study proves that finding your fitness “tribe” is important for all age groups, but it’s especially important for older people. The Department of Healthrecommends those aged 65-plus aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every day — a target three-quarters of that age group don’t meet.